The glial glutamate transporter 1 (GLT1) is expressed by pancreatic β-cells and prevents glutamate-induced β-cell death

Eliana S. Di Cairano, Alberto M. Davalli, Lucia Perego, Silvia Sala, V. Franca Sacchi, Stefano La Rosa, Giovanna Finzi, Claudia Placidi, Carlo Capella, Paola Conti, Victoria E. Centonze, Francesca Casiraghi, Federico Bertuzzi, Franco Folli, Carla Perego

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Glutamate is the major excitatory neurotransmitter of the central nervous system (CNS) and may induce cytotoxicity through persistent activation of glutamate receptors and oxidative stress. Its extracellular concentration is maintained at physiological concentrations by high affinity glutamate transporters of the solute carrier 1 family (SLC1). Glutamate is also present in islet of Langerhans where it is secreted by the α-cells and acts as a signaling molecule to modulate hormone secretion. Whether glutamate plays a role in islet cell viability is presently unknown. We demonstrate that chronic exposure to glutamate exerts a cytotoxic effect in clonal β-cell lines and human islet β-cells but not in α-cells. In human islets, glutamate-induced β-cell cytotoxicity was associated with increased oxidative stress and led to apoptosis and autophagy. We also provide evidence that the key regulator of extracellular islet glutamate concentration is the glial glutamate transporter 1 (GLT1). GLT1 localizes to the plasma membrane of β-cells, modulates hormone secretion, and prevents glutamate-induced cytotoxicity as shown by the fact that its down-regulation induced β-cell death, whereas GLT1 up-regulation promoted β-cell survival. In conclusion, the present study identifies GLT1 as a new player in glutamate homeostasis and signaling in the islet of Langerhans and demonstrates that β-cells critically depend on its activity to control extracellular glutamate levels and cellular integrity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)14007-14018
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Biological Chemistry
Issue number16
Publication statusPublished - Apr 22 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Cell Biology
  • Molecular Biology


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